Queen Victoria’s reign over Britain was a prolific era of cultural, industrial, and political change. As the second longest reigning monarch, her nearly-64 years as Queen saw great expansion of the British Empire. It seems only fitting that as Canadians, we honour our British roots for one day every May, aptly dubbed Victoria Day. Celebrated on the last Monday before May 25th, Victoria’s actual birthday, the holiday has been observed since 1845 when it coincided with her birthdate.
This Victoria Day long weekend, consider its namesakes influence on one of your favourite things: music. Not only was the Victorian age associated with musical evenings, pianos were the popular focal point of the family home. Women were finally allowed to play the violin under Victoria’s reign, as well. One of Queen Victoria’s other legacies is the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the world’s leading museums of art and design. It regularly hosts free Royal College of Music concerts as part of its commitment to cultural preservation. Victoria also laid the Royal Albert Hall’s red Aberdeen granite foundation stone in 1867; a tribute to her beloved husband, Prince Albert. The hall has been a venue for great celebrations of the musical art form ever since.
The Queen herself was a musician. One of the many endearing traits that she and Prince Albert shared was a love of music. Both were pianists and singers, and it’s said that the day after Victoria proposed to Albert, he serenaded her with his own compositions and she sang back. Sheet music accompanied them on their travels, and they attended nearly fifty concerts a year. Among Victoria’s personal favourites were Felix Mendelssohn, of whom the couple was starstruck upon first meeting but eventually befriended, and Frédéric Chopin. Johann Strauss became a household name in his time, after he was commissioned to write the music for the state ball celebrating Princess Victoria’s accession to the throne. His sequence of waltzes for the occasion, Huldigung der Konigin Victoria von Grossbritannien, Waltzer, Op 103 included the iconic phrases: “Cheer to the Queen – Victoria!”, “Rule Britannia”, and “God Save the Queen”.
God save the queen, indeed. This Queen’s mark on music’s history is undeniable. Happy Victoria Day!